Councilwoman Adrian Bonser stands to be the first person brought before Dunwoody’s Board of Ethics after an investigation concluded she was leaking confidential information to the public.
In a May 29 letter, Dunwoody City Council submitted a formal letter of complaint to the Board of Ethics against Bonser. The letter, signed by the mayor and the other five members of the council, alleges that Bonser violated sections of Dunwoody’s city charter and code of ethics, and lists as evidence the report of an investigation commissioned by the mayor.
“There should be a presumption of innocence and it has not been that way with certain council members [in this case],” Bonser said. “I think the entire investigation was a completely emotional and knee-jerk reaction and a poor use of taxpayer dollars.”
The council held executive sessions in late January and early February to discuss what is now known as “Project Renaissance,” a public-private partnership with John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods to develop 35 acres in the Georgetown area into homes, shops, parks and a possible municipal complex.
After information from the meetings was leaked to a blogger and a newspaper, Mayor Mike Davis brought in former DeKalb County District Attorney Bob Wilson to investigate the leak. Wilson’s report concludes Bonser and then-City Attorney Brian Anderson shared the information. Both have denied being the source of a leak.
Anderson resigned when faced with the threat of termination. On May 29, the council approved a separation agreement that provides him with two months’ severance pay.
This is the first time in the city’s history that the ethics board has been called. The volunteer board is an advisory one which does not have the authority to take any action. Instead, the board makes recommendations to the council.
For serious violations, the city charter grants the board the option to recommend an official be removed from office.
The city charter states that elected officials can be removed from office if they are convicted of crimes of moral turpitude, fail to attend a certain number of council meetings or violate the city charter.
According to the charter, an attorney will prepare an analysis of the complaint within 60 days for the members of the board to read and then a hearing will be called.
The ethics board has requested Richard Carothers serve as its attorney.
City Councilman John Heneghan asked why the current city attorney, Cecil McLendon, would not handle the complaint. McLendon said he thought it best to follow the ethics board’s request.
“It is not a bad idea to provide assistance, to make sure it goes forward appropriately,” McLendon said.
Davis said the council filed the letter initiating the ethics hearing because it is spelled out in the law.
“Our ethics ordinance basically is pretty stringent. No. 1, it says if we know of an ethics violation we must report it to the Ethics Board. No ifs, ands or buts,” Davis said. “When we finally had to do the ethics letter, everyone knew we had a leak. I’m not sure how you could not file the ethics letter.”
However, Davis said he thinks the city’s ethics laws are in need of revision. He said he would have liked to have another way to address the situation besides filing an ethics complaint against Bonser.
“There are several cities that have much better written ethics laws than this one, I think,” Davis said. “There’s just no levels of violations. There’s no multiple levels. If you have a violation of the ethics law, you have to file a complaint.”
Dan Whisenhunt contributed to this report.